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FTR #831 The Elderly “Wouldn’t Be Fucking Help­less if You Weren’t Send­ing them Fucking Checks to Sit on their Ass and Lay in Hos­pi­tals all Day”: The GOP’s Assault on Social Security

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash dri­ve that can be obtained here. [1] The new dri­ve is a 32-giga­byte dri­ve that is cur­rent as of the pro­grams and arti­cles post­ed by 12/19/2014. The new dri­ve (avail­able for a tax-deductible con­tri­bu­tion of $65.00 or more) con­tains FTR #827 [2].  (The pre­vi­ous flash dri­ve was cur­rent through the end of May of 2012 and con­tained FTR #748 [3].)

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Lis­ten: MP3

This broad­cast was record­ed in one,  [7]60-minute seg­ment [7]

[8] [9]Intro­duc­tion: In FTR #829 [10], we not­ed that the GOP-dom­i­nat­ed 114th Con­gress wast­ed no time [11] in attack­ing Social Secu­ri­ty [11], fir­ing their open­ing sal­vo on its first day in office. In that same pro­gram, we opined that the Snow­den “op” was a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in alien­at­ing the young, ide­al­is­tic vot­ers [12] who had pro­pelled the Oba­ma can­di­da­cy in 2008.

The Peach Fuzz Fas­cist him­self (Snow­den) march­es to the same drum­mer as the GOP, the Koch broth­ers, Rand Paul et al. He went on the pub­lic record [13] in 2009 against Social Secu­ri­ty and for the restora­tion of the gold stan­dard [14] (this when that career spy was post­ed to Gene­va, Switzer­land as an offi­cer of the CIA.)

The obscene quote in the title recaps Snow­den’s think­ing ver­ba­tim.

This pro­gram con­tin­ues analy­sis of the assault by the GOP on the New Deal and Social Secu­ri­ty, con­clud­ing with review of the 1934 coup attempt [15] by pow­er­ful U.S. finan­cial and indus­tri­al inter­ests.

Like Snow­den and the GOP-con­trolled 114th Con­gress, the 1934 plot­ters [16] want­ed to restore the gold stan­dard [17] and repu­di­ate Roo­sevelt’s social agen­da [18].

Rand Paul [19]–part of “The Paulis­tin­ian Lib­er­tar­i­an Orga­ni­za­tion” [20] and an ardent defend­er of Snowden–is at the fore­front of the attack on Social Secu­ri­ty, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly man­i­fest­ing bla­tant false­hoods and dis­tor­tions to jus­ti­fy his posi­tion. (Rand Paul is being tout­ed [21] by Ralph Nad­er.)

A sig­nif­i­cant part of the pro­gram con­sists of an ana­lyt­i­cal time­line [22] of the GOP’s attack on Social Secu­ri­ty, dat­ing back to the peri­od of the 1934 coup plot­ters.

What we are see­ing with the Snowden/GOP “get rid of Social Security/bring back the gold stan­dard” polit­i­cal cat­e­chism is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of “Clause­witz­ian eco­nom­ics. [23]

[24]

Edward Snow­den, unplugged

Pro­gram High­lights Include: The GOP’s plans to “pri­va­tize” [25] Social Secu­ri­ty; an irre­spon­si­ble “60-Min­utes” [26] piece fea­tur­ing Tom Coburn (R‑Oklahoma)  spu­ri­ous­ly attack­ing Social Secu­ri­ty; review of Snow­den’s advo­ca­cy of return­ing to the gold stan­dard [14]; a blue­print of the GOP’s game plan [22] for attack­ing Social Secu­ri­ty; review of eugen­ics phi­los­o­phy [27] and the need to elim­i­nate “use­less bread gob­blers.”

1a. Excerpt­ing some of Snowden’s 2009 online musings–crafted dur­ing the same time peri­od in which he decid­ed to leak NSA documents–gives us insight into his true nature. We’ve men­tioned Snowden’s embrace of the gold stan­dard, belief that we should elim­i­nate Social Secu­rity and deep affin­ity for Ron Paul. Per­haps exam­in­ing his actu­al pro­nounce­ments will prove edu­ca­tion­al.

EXAMPLE:  . . . Snow­den wrote that the elder­ly ‘wouldn’t be fuck­ing help­less if you weren’t send­ing them fuck­ing checks to sit on their ass and lay in hos­pi­tals all day.’ Yeah, if ONLY those 75 and 80-year-olds lying in hos­pi­tal beds would get up and find jobs like every­body else, right Eddie? Snow­den is a nasty lit­tle fas­cist and peo­ple should care­fully con­sider the rest of his behav­ior in the con­text of his ide­o­log­i­cal pro­nounce­ments.

“Would You Feel Dif­fer­ently About Snow­den, Green­wald, and Assange If You Knew What They Real­ly Thought?” by Sean Wilentz; The New Repub­lic; 1/19/2014. [13]

[Snow­den is post­ing under the moniker “The True­HOOHA”] At the time the stim­u­lus bill was being debat­ed, Snow­den also con­demned Obama’s eco­nomic poli­cies as part of a delib­er­ate scheme “to deval­ue the cur­rency absolute­ly as fast as the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble.” (He favored Ron Paul’s call for the Unit­ed States to return to the gold stan­dard.) The social dis­lo­ca­tions of the finan­cial col­lapse both­ered him not at all. “Almost every­one was self-employed pri­or to 1900,” he assert­ed. “Why is 12% employ­ment [sic] so ter­ri­fy­ing?”In anoth­er chat-room exchange, Snow­den debat­ed the mer­its of Social Secu­ri­ty:

<TheTrue­HOOHA> save mon­ey? cut this social secu­rity bull­shit

<User 11> haha­hayes

<User 18> Yeah! Fuck old peo­ple!

<User 11> social secu­rity is bull­shit

<User 11> let’s just toss old peo­ple out in the street

<User 18> Old peo­ple could move in with [User11].

<User 11> NOOO

<User 11> they smell fun­ny

<TheTrue­HOOHA> Some­how, our soci­ety man­aged to make it hun­dreds of years with­out social secu­rity just fine . . . .

<TheTrue­HOOHA> Mag­i­cally the world changed after the New Deal, and old peo­ple became made of glass.

Lat­er in the same ses­sion, Snow­den wrote that the elder­ly “wouldn’t be fuck­ing help­less if you weren’t send­ing them fuck­ing checks to sit on their ass and lay in hos­pi­tals all day.”

1b. More about Snow­den’s ultra-right wing views, at one with those of the GOP-con­trolled 114th Con­gress, whose elec­tion appears to have been great­ly aid­ed by the Snowden/WikiLeaks “op.” (The 42% turnout was small, even by off-year elec­tion stan­dards.)

“In 2009, Ed Snow­den Said Leak­ers “Should Be Shot.” Then He Became One” by Joe Mullin; Ars Tech­ni­ca; 6/26/2013. [14]

. . . . Hired by the CIA and grant­ed a diplo­matic cov­er, he was a reg­u­lar old IT guy whose life was ele­vated by a hint of inter­na­tional intrigue. . . .

. . . . But as his first spring dawned in Switzer­land, it must have felt cold, for­eign, and expen­sive. Two days after his arrival in Switzer­land, Snow­den logged onto #arsi­fi­cial, a chan­nel on Ars Technica’s pub­lic Inter­net Relay Chat (IRC) serv­er. He’d been fre­quent­ing this space for a few months, chat­ting with whomev­er hap­pened to be hang­ing out. . . .

. . . . Snow­den logged on to the pub­lic IRC chat room with the same user­name he used across the Web: TheTrue­HOOHA. The chat room was a place he would return to on dozens of occa­sions over his years in Switzer­land, and his writ­ings fill in details about the man who may go down as the most famous leak­er in US his­tory. Over the years that he hung out in #arsi­fi­cial, Snow­den went from being a fair­ly insu­lated Amer­i­can to being a man of the world. He would wax philo­soph­i­cal about mon­ey, pol­i­tics, and in one notable exchange, about his uncom­pro­mis­ing views about gov­ern­ment leak­ers.

Four years lat­er, Snow­den took a job with a gov­ern­ment con­trac­tor for the spe­cific pur­pose of gath­er­ing secret infor­ma­tion on domes­tic spy­ing being done by the Nation­al Secu­rity Agency (NSA). In May, he hopped a plane to Hong Kong before the NSA knew where he was going. Once there, Snow­den began a process of leak­ing top-secret doc­u­ments to jour­nal­ists. Snowden’s first leak con­firmed what activists had sus­pected but couldn’t prove: there was a drag­net gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance pro­gram col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion on every American’s phone calls. . . .

. . . . And he could be abra­sive. Snow­den didn’t short stocks just to make money—he did it because it was the right thing to do. He saw him­self as a pal­adin of the mar­kets, bring­ing “liq­uid­ity” to all. As for those who didn’t agree with him about the right­ness of the gold stan­dard or the need to elim­i­nate Social Secu­rity, they weren’t just mistaken—they were “retards.” . . .

. . . . A Ron Paul man and a short-sell­er

If Snow­den was get­ting com­fort­able in Gene­va, he was ful­ly at home in #arsi­fi­cial. In a depar­ture from his near­ly 800 posts in oth­er Ars forums, here he spoke blunt­ly on mat­ters of state. In the months fol­low­ing the 2008 elec­tion, he dis­cussed his embrace of a return to the gold stan­dard and his admi­ra­tion of its high­est-pro­file cham­pi­on.

In his more hyper­bolic moments, Snow­den spoke about the fall of the dol­lar in near-apoc­a­lyp­tic terms. “It seems like the USD and GBP are both like­ly to go the way of the zim­babwe dol­lar,” he sug­gested in March 2009. “Espe­cially with that cock­bag bernanke decid­ing to mag­i­cally print 1.2T more dol­lars.” . . .

. . . . The high unem­ploy­ment rate that was on the way for the US didn’t phase Snow­den; those wring­ing their hands and seek­ing con­ven­tional Key­ne­sian solu­tions seemed soft­headed to him. Oba­ma was “plan­ning to deval­ue the cur­rency absolute­ly as fast as the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble,” he wrote. Ris­ing unem­ploy­ment was a mere “cor­rec­tion,” a “nec­es­sary part of cap­i­tal­ism.” . . .

1c. Edward Snow­den is a spy. Those who have been tak­en in by his super­fi­cial per­sona are vic­tims of a rel­a­tive­ly obvi­ous intel­li­gence “op.”

” Inside the Mind of Edward Snow­den” by Tra­cy Con­nor [Inter­view with Bri­an Williams];  NBC News; 5/28/2014. [28]

. . . .“I was trained as a spy in sort of the tra­di­tion­al sense of the word, in that I lived and worked under­cov­er over­seas — pre­tend­ing to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine,” Snow­den said. . . .

1d. Rand Paul [29], who intro­duced Bruce Fein [30] to the Snow­den fam­i­ly [31], has joined the attack on Social Secu­ri­ty. He is march­ing to the same drum­mer [32] as the Peach Fuzz Fas­cist (Snow­den).

“Rand Paul Steps Up the GOP Attack on Social Secu­ri­ty” by Michael Hiltzik [The Econ­o­my Hub]; The Los Ange­les Times; 1/19/2015. [19]

Trav­el oblig­a­tions kept me from address­ing until now the attack on Social Secu­ri­ty dis­abil­i­ty recip­i­ents made last week by Sen. Rand Paul (R‑Ky.), but it was too out­stand­ing­ly igno­rant and cyn­i­cal to go unan­swered.

Long sto­ry short: If Paul’s words tru­ly rep­re­sent the Repub­li­can Par­ty’s approach to Social Secu­ri­ty, then not just the dis­abled but every­one else with an inter­est in the pro­gram — tax­pay­ers, retirees and their sur­vivors and depen­dents — should start pan­ick­ing now. We report­ed on the first shot fired at Social Secu­ri­ty by the new GOP Con­gress here. Paul has now raised the stakes.

Here are his words, deliv­ered to an appre­cia­tive audi­ence on Wednes­day in the key pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry state of New Hamp­shire:

“The thing is that all of these pro­grams, there’s always some­body who’s deserv­ing, every­body in this room knows some­body who’s gam­ing the sys­tem. I tell peo­ple that if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be get­ting a dis­abil­i­ty check. Over half the peo­ple on dis­abil­i­ty are either anx­ious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn’t get up a lit­tle anx­ious for work every day and their back hurts? Every­one over 40 has a back pain.”

Paul thus asso­ciates him­self with a slan­der of dis­abil­i­ty recip­i­ents favored by Repub­li­can con­ser­v­a­tives abet­ted by ill-informed jour­nal­ists, who include the staffs of NPR and “60 Min­utes.” (We report­ed ear­li­er on the lat­ter’s aban­don­ment of jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards in its dis­abil­i­ty cov­er­age.

Leav­ing aside Paul’s con­tempt for peo­ple suf­fer­ing from these con­di­tions (“Join the club”), his num­bers are fla­grant­ly wrong. The actu­al fig­ures can be found in this table from the Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion. Start with “anx­i­ety”: The Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion clas­si­fies anx­i­ety as a sub­set of men­tal dis­or­ders and places it in the catch-all cat­e­go­ry of “oth­er,” which con­sti­tute a total of 3.9% of all dis­abil­i­ty claims — and that’s all oth­er­wise unclas­si­fied men­tal dis­or­ders, not just anx­i­ety.

Where Rand Paul goes wrong: Back pain and anx­i­ety account for nowhere near half of all dis­abil­i­ty claims...

Social Secu­ri­ty does­n’t regard anx­i­ety as light­ly as Paul. Accord­ing to its def­i­n­i­tions, which can be found here, the cat­e­go­ry includes post-trau­mat­ic stress syn­drome and pho­bias or com­pul­sions that result in “marked dif­fi­cul­ties” with work­ing or liv­ing in soci­ety, or “com­plete inabil­i­ty to func­tion inde­pen­dent­ly out­side the area of one’s home.” Paul wants his audi­ence to think of “anx­i­ety” as the mild sense of dread you might expe­ri­ence when con­tem­plat­ing a bad day at work, or per­haps an unpleas­ant vis­it with your fam­i­ly. He’s lying about it.

As for back pain, no one gets dis­abil­i­ty for the kind of mild stiff­ness that Bay­er aspirin claims to relieve in its TV ads. That’s the con­di­tion Paul tries to evoke by say­ing “every­one over 40 has a back pain.” But he shows no empa­thy what­so­ev­er for the real suf­fer­ers of this con­di­tion — those who get it not from labor­ing in a physi­cian’s office or in Con­gress, as Paul has, but from years of hard phys­i­cal toil or work­place injury.

Social Secu­ri­ty clas­si­fies back pain as a “dis­ease of the mus­cu­loskele­tal sys­tem.” Some 30.5% of dis­abled work­ers fell into this cat­e­go­ry in 2013, accord­ing to the lat­est avail­able fig­ures. But that cat­e­go­ry cov­ers a lot more than “back pain.” It also com­pris­es ampu­ta­tions, joint fail­ures, leg and arm frac­tures, spine dis­or­ders and burns.

These are the offi­cial fig­ures; no one has doc­u­ment­ed any oth­ers. Paul did­n’t cite a sin­gle source for his asser­tion that “over half the peo­ple on dis­abil­i­ty are either anx­ious or their back hurts,” so it’s rea­son­able to con­clude that he has no sources. But that’s all right, because his goal isn’t to offer a con­sid­ered analy­sis of the pres­sures fac­ing Social Secu­ri­ty in gen­er­al or its dis­abil­i­ty com­po­nent in par­tic­u­lar, but to ratio­nal­ize an attack on the whole pro­gram by ridi­cul­ing dis­abil­i­ty recip­i­ents as a step toward leg­is­lat­ing their ben­e­fits out of the sys­tem. Fab­ri­cat­ed sta­tis­tics are more than use­ful for that pur­pose.

...but his home state of Ken­tucky has one of the high­est dis­abil­i­ty rates in the coun­try, for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. (Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion)
The dis­abil­i­ty pro­gram is fac­ing a fis­cal cri­sis that could force a cut­back in dis­abil­i­ty pay­ments of about 20% start­ing next year; Paul and oth­er Repub­li­cans have sig­naled that they won’t accept the cus­tom­ary rem­e­dy for sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions, which involves real­lo­cat­ing some pay­roll tax rev­enue from the old-age fund to cov­er dis­abil­i­ty’s near-term short­fall. Instead, they’re demand­ing a full-scale fis­cal rebal­anc­ing of Social Secu­ri­ty, which in prac­tice means ben­e­fit cuts for every­one — dis­abled, retirees and their fam­i­lies.

A large pro­por­tion of Paul’s own con­stituents would be harmed by his approach. In 2013, his home state of Ken­tucky had the fourth-high­est dis­abil­i­ty rate in the coun­try — more than 225,000 res­i­dents, or 8.2% of the pop­u­la­tion — fos­tered in part by low edu­ca­tion­al attain­ment and lack of gain­ful employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties. (What has Paul done to alle­vi­ate those con­di­tions?)

The most cyn­i­cal aspect of this attack is that it comes from some law­mak­ers who were helped by Social Secu­ri­ty in their own lives. The ros­ter includes Rep. Paul Ryan (R‑Wis.), who received Social Secu­ri­ty ben­e­fits dur­ing his col­lege years, after his father’s untime­ly death, and now thinks that the nation can’t afford to keep pay­ing them as cur­rent­ly sched­uled.

Anoth­er is Rep. Tom Reed (R‑N.Y.), the spon­sor of the House rules change, whose father died when he was 2 and then was raised by a sin­gle moth­er on Social Secu­ri­ty and vet­er­ans ben­e­fits. Now he talks about Social Secu­ri­ty going “bank­rupt,” which is flat­ly incor­rect, and pro­motes a mea­sure aimed at cut­ting ben­e­fits for all. This is known as climb­ing the lad­der and pulling it up behind you. If Reed, Ryan and Paul get their way, the only option left to the rest of us will be to hold tight.

1e. It appears to be far more than just the GOP that is attack­ing Social Secu­ri­ty. “60 Min­utes” played a will­ing sound­ing board to wealthy GOP Sen­a­tor from Okla­homa Tom Coburn:

” ’60 Min­utes’ ’ Shame­ful Attack on the Dis­abled” by Michael Hiltzik; The Los Ange­les Times; 10/07/2013. [26]

Is it pos­si­ble for a major news orga­ni­za­tion to pro­duce a sto­ry about the Social Secu­ri­ty dis­abil­i­ty pro­gram with­out inter­view­ing a sin­gle dis­abled per­son or dis­abil­i­ty advo­cate?

That’s the exper­i­ment “60 Min­utes” con­duct­ed Sun­day. The result was pre­dictably ghast­ly.

The news pro­gram’s theme was that dis­abil­i­ty recip­i­ents are rip­ping off the tax­pay­er. Anchor Steve Kroft called the pro­gram “a secret wel­fare sys­tem... rav­aged by waste and fraud.” His chief source was Sen. Tom Coburn, an Okla­homa Repub­li­can with a doc­u­ment­ed hos­til­i­ty to Social Secu­ri­ty [33]. Coburn has a report on the dis­abil­i­ty pro­gram’s pur­port­ed flaws due out Mon­day. Good of “60 Min­utes” to give him some free pub­lic­i­ty.

Togeth­er Kroft and Coburn dis­played a rank igno­rance about the dis­abil­i­ty pro­gram: how it works, who the ben­e­fi­cia­ries are, why it has grown. This is espe­cial­ly shock­ing because after a sim­i­lar­ly over­wrought and inac­cu­rate “inves­ti­ga­tion” of dis­abil­i­ty aired on Nation­al Pub­lic Radio in March, numer­ous experts came forth to set the record straight. They includ­ed eight for­mer Social Secu­ri­ty com­mis­sion­ers [34], expe­ri­enced ana­lysts of the pro­gram [35], even the Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion’s chief actu­ary [36], Steve Goss.

“60 Min­utes” appar­ent­ly talked to none of them.

At the top of the seg­ment, Kroft observed that dis­abil­i­ty now serves “near­ly 12 mil­lion Amer­i­cans,” up by about 20% in the last six years. Coburn asked, “Where’d all those dis­abled peo­ple come from?”

To begin with, 12 mil­lion peo­ple aren’t col­lect­ing dis­abil­i­ty pay­ments. The num­ber as of the end of 2012 was 10.9 mil­lion, com­pris­ing 8.8 mil­lion dis­abled work­ers and about 2 mil­lion of their fam­i­ly mem­bers, most­ly chil­dren.

The rolls have grown con­sis­tent­ly since 1980, but even though Coburn pro­fess­es to be dumb­found­ed why, there’s no mys­tery. As Goss laid out the fac­tors, they include a 41% increase in the total pop­u­la­tion aged 20–64. Then there’s the demo­graph­ic aging of Amer­i­ca, which has increased the preva­lence of dis­abil­i­ty by 38%. (In case Coburn, a physi­cian, has­n’t noticed, the old­er you get, the more vul­ner­a­ble you are to injury and ill­ness.) Then there’s the entry of women into the work­force in large num­bers, which has brought many of them under Social Secu­ri­ty cov­er­age for the first time.

Final­ly, there’s the econ­o­my. When jobs are scarce, more peo­ple land on the dis­abil­i­ty rolls, but that’s not about peo­ple treat­ing it as an alter­na­tive wel­fare or unem­ploy­ment pro­gram, as “60 Min­utes” would have it.

The rela­tion­ship between dis­abil­i­ty and unem­ploy­ment is much more nuanced. As we explained in April [37], dis­abled peo­ple always have more dif­fi­cul­ty find­ing jobs than oth­ers; when desk jobs dis­ap­pear and all that’s left are labor­ers’ posi­tions, the oppor­tu­ni­ties for the phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly chal­lenged shrink. A good econ­o­my allows more dis­abled per­sons to find gain­ful employ­ment and stay off the rolls; in a bad econ­o­my that path isn’t open.

The most per­ni­cious lie told about the dis­abil­i­ty pro­gram is that it’s easy to obtain ben­e­fits. “60 Min­utes” repeat­ed that lie. The truth is that dis­abil­i­ty stan­dards are strin­gent, and they’re applied strin­gent­ly. Two-thirds of all appli­cants are ini­tial­ly denied, though 10% or so of all appli­cants win ben­e­fits on appeal. All in all, 41% of all appli­cants end up with checks. Sound easy to you?

“60 Min­utes” inter­viewed two Social Secu­ri­ty dis­abil­i­ty judges, Mar­i­lyn Zahm and Ran­dall Frye, who seemed to say that stan­dards are so loose almost any­one can score. That’s curi­ous. When they were inter­viewed in 2009 by Zah­m’s home­town news­pa­per, The Buf­fa­lo News, they said that stan­dards were too tight – “Every month, most judges see a case that should have been paid at the first lev­el,” Frye said then. (It would be inter­est­ing to see the “60 Min­utes” out­takes.)

Much of the “60 Min­utes” piece was devot­ed to expos­ing gar­den vari­ety scams sup­pos­ed­ly per­pe­trat­ed by shys­ter dis­abil­i­ty lawyers, which appar­ent­ly is Coburn’s hob­by­horse. But that’s not the true sto­ry of Social Secu­ri­ty dis­abil­i­ty. This is a pro­gram that serves needy, aging and injured mem­bers of the work­force, pay­ing a prince­ly aver­age of $1,130 a month.

The tragedy is that the dis­abil­i­ty pro­gram is under­fund­ed, fac­ing the exhaus­tion of its resources as soon as 2016. In the past, Con­gress has rou­tine­ly reme­died this fund­ing cri­sis by trans­fer­ring funds from Social Secu­ri­ty’s old-age pro­gram. But it has nev­er act­ed to prop­er­ly sup­port the dis­abil­i­ty fund.

 

2a. In keep­ing with the views of Eddie the Friend­ly Spook Snow­den, the GOP began attack­ing Social Secu­ri­ty and its dis­abil­i­ty pro­gram.

“New GOP Con­gress Fires Shot At Social Secu­rity On Day One” by Dylan Scott; Talk­ing Points Memo DC; 1/6/2015. [11]

With a lit­tle-noticed pro­posal, Repub­li­cans took aim at Social Secu­rity on the very first day of the 114th Con­gress.

The incom­ing GOP major­ity approved late Tues­day a new rule that experts say could pro­voke an unprece­dented cri­sis that con­ser­v­a­tives could use as lever­age in upcom­ing debates over enti­tle­ment reform.

The large­ly over­looked change puts a new restric­tion on the rou­tine trans­fer of tax rev­enues between the tra­di­tional Social Secu­rity retire­ment trust fund and the Social Secu­rity dis­abil­ity pro­gram. The trans­fers, known as real­lo­ca­tion, had his­tor­i­cally been rou­tine; the lib­eral Cen­ter for Bud­get and Pol­icy Pri­or­i­ties said [38]Tues­day that they had been made 11 times. The CBPP added that the dis­abil­ity insur­ance pro­gram “isn’t bro­ken,” but the pro­gram has been strained by demo­graphic trends that the real­lo­ca­tions are intend­ed to address.

The House GOP’s rule change would still allow for a real­lo­ca­tion from the retire­ment fund to shore up the dis­abil­ity fund — but only if an accom­pa­ny­ing pro­posal “improves the over­all finan­cial health of the com­bined Social Secu­rity Trust Funds,” per the rule, expect­ed to be passed on Tues­day. While that lan­guage is vague, experts say it would like­ly mean any real­lo­ca­tion would have to be bal­anced by new rev­enues or ben­e­fit cuts.

House Democ­rats are sound­ing the alarm. In a memo cir­cu­lated to their allies Tues­day, Demo­c­ra­tic staffers said that that would mean “either new rev­enues or ben­e­fit cuts for cur­rent or future ben­e­fi­cia­ries.” New rev­enues are high­ly unlike­ly to be approved by the deeply tax-averse Repub­li­can-led Con­gress, leav­ing ben­e­fit cuts as the obvi­ous alter­na­tive.

The Social Secu­rity and Medicare Boards of Trustees esti­mated [39] last year that the dis­abil­ity insur­ance pro­gram would run short of mon­ey to pay all ben­e­fits some time in late 2016. With­out a new real­lo­ca­tion, dis­abil­ity insur­ance ben­e­fi­cia­ries could face up to 20 per­cent cuts in their Social Secu­rity pay­ments in late 2016 — a chit that would be of use to Repub­li­cans push­ing for con­ser­v­a­tive enti­tle­ment reforms.

“The rule change would pro­hibit a sim­ple real­lo­ca­tion! It will require more sig­nif­i­cant and com­plex changes to Social Secu­rity,” Social Secu­rity Works, an advo­cacy group, said in a state­ment Tues­day. “In oth­er words, the Repub­li­can rule will allow Social Secu­rity to be held hostage.”

Pol­icy wonks who fol­low Social Secu­rity saw the GOP rule change as a play for lever­age.

“Everybody’s been talk­ing about enti­tle­ment reform. Mr. Boehn­er and Pres­i­dent Oba­ma were pret­ty close to com­ing up with some kind of grand bar­gain, which ulti­mately fell apart,” Tom Hunger­ford, senior econ­o­mist at the lib­eral Eco­nomic Pol­icy Insti­tute, told TPM. “Maybe this could be used as a hostage to try to get back to some­thing like that.”

For their part, con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans were fair­ly trans­par­ent about their think­ing. Rep. Tom Reed (R‑NY), who has been out­spo­ken on the dis­abil­ity pro­gram, co-spon­sored the rule amend­ment. The dis­abil­ity pro­gram has been a favored tar­get for the GOP; mem­bers were warn­ing [40] last month that the pro­gram could be vul­ner­a­ble to fraud.

“My inten­tion by doing this is to force us to look for a long term solu­tion for SSDI rather than raid­ing Social Secu­rity to bail out a fail­ing fed­eral pro­gram,” Reed said [41] in a state­ment. “Retired tax­pay­ers who have paid into the sys­tem for years deserve no less.”

Lib­eral ana­lysts counter, how­ever, that the retire­ment fund, which pays out $672.1 bil­lion in ben­e­fits per year ver­sus $140.1 bil­lion for the dis­abil­ity fund, is more than healthy enough to allow for a real­lo­ca­tion, as has his­tor­i­cally been done. CBPP’s Kathy Ruff­ing wrote [42] that, if a trans­fer was made before the 2016 dead­line, both funds would be sol­vent until 2033.

...

2b. More about the GOP’s assault on Social Secu­ri­ty, a pol­i­cy whole­heart­ed­ly endorsed by Snow­den:

“Inside The GOP’s Long Game To Ignite A New Bat­tle Over Social Secu­ri­ty” by Dylan Scott; TPM DC1/9/2015.  [22]

Repub­li­cans are seiz­ing a once-every-20-years oppor­tu­nity to force a cri­sis in the Social Secu­rity dis­abil­ity pro­gram and use it as lever­age to push through reforms, a long game that they have been qui­etly lay­ing ground­work for since tak­ing con­trol of the House in 2010.

In less than two years, the Social Social dis­abil­ity insur­ance pro­gram will start being unable to pay its full ben­e­fits and House Repub­li­cans said [11]this week that they aren’t going to sim­ply give it more rev­enue from the retire­ment side, as has been done his­tor­i­cally. It’s the lat­est episode in a pro­tracted cam­paign over the dis­abil­ity pro­gram — and it rais­es the ques­tion of what exact­ly Repub­li­cans plan to do now.

The last time this hap­pened was 1994, and lib­eral ana­lysts say that anoth­er sim­ple real­lo­ca­tion between the dis­abil­ity and retire­ment funds, as has been done 11 times in the past, would keep both funds sol­vent until 2033. That meant that con­ser­v­a­tives had to act now if they want­ed to squeeze the cri­sis for all it’s worth. For the last few years, they’ve been high­light­ing instances of fraud and oth­er prob­lems with the pro­gram, set­ting the stage for the big move this week.

Democ­rats are sound­ing the alarm, warn­ing that Repub­li­cans have tak­en a “hostage” and will lever­age it to pur­sue broad changes to Social Secu­rity as a whole. With mem­o­ries still fresh of their failed effort to pri­va­tize Social Secu­rity in 2005, con­ser­v­a­tives wonks are less sure that the new GOP Con­gress would have the polit­i­cal will to do that, though they wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily mind if it did.

“I wasn’t sure that they were going to be will­ing to take it up. I’m heart­ened that the rule was put in place. It forces us to start hav­ing a debate on this issue today,” said Jason Ficht­ner, senior research fel­low at George Mason University’s Mer­ca­tus Cen­ter who has been called by House Repub­li­cans to tes­tify on Social Secu­rity. “What I sus­pect is this allows for a con­ver­sa­tion not just on (dis­abil­ity), but the whole sys­tem com­bined. But the hur­dle of dis­abil­ity insur­ance is high enough. You start adding in try­ing to retire­ment reform at the same time, that just makes it a high­er hur­dle. I’m not sure there’s the polit­i­cal will or the pub­lic will to tack­le both sys­tems at the same time right now.”

The hostage in this metaphor is the dis­abil­ity insur­ance pro­gram and a late 2016 dead­line, at which point it won’t be able to pay its full ben­e­fits to its 11 mil­lion ben­e­fi­cia­ries. The new Repub­li­can House has approved a rule that says Con­gress can’t just trans­fer tax rev­enue from the Social Secu­rity retire­ment fund, as it has been done rou­tinely in the past, to cov­er the loom­ing short­fall. If noth­ing is done, ben­e­fi­cia­ries would face an esti­mated 20 per­cent cut.

Most mem­bers on both sides pre­sum­ably wouldn’t want to see that hap­pen, espe­cially dur­ing a crit­i­cal elec­tion cycle, giv­ing Repub­li­cans pow­er­ful lever­age to bring Democ­rats to the nego­ti­at­ing table. One of the co-spon­sors of the rule change, Rep. Tom Reed (R‑NY), said [41]that his inten­tion was to “force us to look for a long-term solu­tion” to the dis­abil­ity pro­gram.

But the rule itself says it will allow a rev­enue trans­fer if the “over­all health” of Social Secu­rity, encom­pass­ing both the retire­ment and dis­abil­ity pro­grams, is improved. That’s what Democ­rats are warn­ing about, but some con­ser­v­a­tive ana­lysts who have con­sulted with House staffers are also hop­ing that the GOP uses the threat of ben­e­fits cuts to go big.

“It’s encour­ag­ing that the rule actu­ally says we could do real­lo­ca­tion if it’s accom­pa­nied by improve­ments in over­all Social Secu­rity sol­vency. Our pref­er­ence has always been that the deple­tion of the DI trust fund become the impe­tus for com­pre­hen­sive Social Secu­rity reform,” Ed Loren­zen, senior advi­sor to the Com­mit­tee for a Respon­si­ble Fed­eral Bud­get, told TPM. “For the most part, the prob­lems fac­ing DI are real­ly just a symp­tom of the larg­er prob­lems for Social Secu­rity as a whole.”

Staff for the House’s big play­ers on Social Secu­rity — Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan (R‑WI) and Social Secu­rity Sub­com­mit­tee Chair Sam John­son (R‑TX), who co-spon­sored the new rule with Reed — weren’t ready to reveal their plans for what comes next. But asked if their pro­pos­als would address just the dis­abil­ity insur­ance fund or Social Secu­rity in its entire­ty, an aide to Reed told TPM: “Just DI for the moment.”

Those on the right weren’t sur­prised that the new GOP Con­gress took an aggres­sive stance on Social Security’s dis­abil­ity pro­gram on its very first day. “Over the last year, it start­ed becom­ing clear that there’d be a lot of resis­tance to (a clean real­lo­ca­tion) and a desire to have real­lo­ca­tion tied to some reforms,” Loren­zen said. “We were sort of antic­i­pat­ing that this would hap­pen.”

...

The hostage in this metaphor is the dis­abil­ity insur­ance pro­gram and a late 2016 dead­line, at which point it won’t be able to pay its full ben­e­fits to its 11 mil­lion ben­e­fi­cia­ries. The new Repub­li­can House has approved a rule that says Con­gress can’t just trans­fer tax rev­enue from the Social Secu­rity retire­ment fund, as it has been done rou­tinely in the past, to cov­er the loom­ing short­fall. If noth­ing is done, ben­e­fi­cia­ries would face an esti­mated 20 per­cent cut.

Most mem­bers on both sides pre­sum­ably wouldn’t want to see that hap­pen, espe­cially dur­ing a crit­i­cal elec­tion cycle, giv­ing Repub­li­cans pow­er­ful lever­age to bring Democ­rats to the nego­ti­at­ing table. One of the co-spon­sors of the rule change, Rep. Tom Reed (R‑NY), said [41] that his inten­tion was to “force us to look for a long-term solu­tion” to the dis­abil­ity pro­gram.

...

3.  The chair­man of the House Bud­get Com­mit­tee also hint­ed at pri­va­tiz­ing Social Secu­rity [25]:

“House Bud­get Chair Sig­nals Big Social Secu­rity Reforms A‑Coming” by Dylan ScottTPM Livewire; 1/12/2015. [25]

The new House Bud­get Com­mit­tee chair­man hint­ed Mon­day that he had big plans for Social Secu­rity reform in the next two years, accord­ing to the Atlanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion [43].

A week after the House vot­ed on a rule [11] that crit­ics say could force a man­u­fac­tured cri­sis in the dis­abil­ity pro­gram in late 2016, a poten­tial lever­age point for Repub­li­cans aim­ing for changes, Rep. Tom Price (R‑GA) told a con­ser­v­a­tive audi­ence that he want­ed his com­mit­tee to tack­le Social Secu­ri­ty.

“What I’m hope­ful is what the Bud­get Com­mit­tee will be able do is to is begin to nor­mal­ize the dis­cus­sion and debate about Social Secu­rity. This is a pro­gram that right now on its cur­rent course will not be able to pro­vide 75 or 80 per­cent of the ben­e­fits that indi­vid­u­als have paid into in a rel­a­tively short peri­od of time,” he said at a Her­itage Action for Amer­ica event in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., accord­ing to AJC. “That’s not a respon­si­ble posi­tion to say, ‘You don’t need to do any­thing to do it.’”

Price, whose pre­de­ces­sor Rep. Paul Ryan (R‑WI) nev­er put for­ward major reform pro­pos­als in his oth­er­wise ambi­tious bud­gets, offered means-test­ing and increas­ing the eli­gi­bil­ity age as pos­si­bil­i­ties. He also hint­ed at pri­va­tiz­ing Social Secu­rity.

“All those things ought to be on the table and dis­cussed,” he said.

...

4. The GOP spent the last 80 years try­ing to throw granny off a cliff [44]? When today’s 80 year olds were born, the GOP was already plan­ning for their elder­ly pover­ty [45]. Well, that’s our GOP (and Eddie the Friend­ly Spook): try­ing to smoth­er the joy out of life, from cra­dle to grave [46]:

“The 80-Year Con­ser­v­a­tive War On Social Secu­rity Is Back For More”  [46]by Dylan Scott; TPM DC [46]; 1/14/2014. [46]

A new bat­tle is brew­ing over Social Secu­rity in 114th Con­gress. The House passed [11]a rule last week that crit­ics say could has­ten a cri­sis on the dis­abil­ity side of the pro­gram in late 2016, allow­ing Repub­li­cans to use the loom­ing threat of ben­e­fit cuts as lever­age in nego­ti­a­tions. New Sen­ate Major­ity Leader Mitch McConnell (R‑KY) has hint­ed at his hopes for a grand bar­gain on enti­tle­ments, and House Bud­get Chair Tom Price (R‑GA) sig­naled Mon­day that he too had big ambi­tions for Social Secu­rity reform.

Social Secu­rity, in more ways than one the moth­er of all U.S. enti­tle­ment pro­grams, has been the drag­on that con­ser­v­a­tives have suc­ceeded in slash­ing, but nev­er slay­ing, over its 80-year his­tory. Their oppo­si­tion has mor­phed from out­right ide­o­log­i­cal grounds as the pro­gram was being debat­ed dur­ing the New Deal era to a cam­paign masked in care­ful rhetoric once Social Secu­rity became vir­tu­ally untouch­able as a polit­i­cal ani­mal.

Repub­li­cans know they have a new oppor­tu­nity with the dis­abil­ity trust fund and a lever­age point that comes along once every 20 years, and they’re seiz­ing it [22]. Price float­ed some favorite pro­pos­als like means-test­ing, increas­ing the eli­gi­bil­ity age, and indi­vid­ual accounts (oth­er­wise known as pri­va­ti­za­tion). He described it as the GOP’s effort to “nor­mal­ize the dis­cus­sion and debate about Social Secu­ri­ty.”

...

INITIAL GOP OPPOSITION (1933–35)

FDR began advo­cat­ing for an old-age insur­ance pro­gram short­ly after tak­ing office in 1933. While the debate among Democ­rats large­ly cen­tered on what form the pro­gram should take, whom it should cov­er and how it should be paid for, Repub­li­cans warned that the pro­gram would “impose a crush­ing bur­den on indus­try and labor” and “estab­lish a bureau­cracy in the field of insur­ance in com­pe­ti­tion with pri­vate busi­ness.”

Repub­li­cans peti­tioned for the old-age insur­ance pro­gram — what became Social Secu­rity — to be struck from the House’s bill entire­ly, leav­ing a much small­er ver­sion of wel­fare for the elder­ly. “Nev­er in the his­tory of the world has any mea­sure been brought here so insid­i­ously designed as to pre­vent busi­ness recov­ery, to enslave work­ers and to pre­vent any pos­si­bil­ity of the employ­ers pro­vid­ing work for the peo­ple,” Rep. John Taber (R‑NY) said, argu­ing against the pro­gram.

In the Sen­ate, Sen. Daniel Hast­ings (R‑DE) also moved to strike the pro­gram from the leg­is­la­tion, warn­ing that it would “end the progress of a great coun­try and bring its peo­ple to the lev­el of the aver­age Euro­pean.”

...

TRYING TO STOP ITS GROWTH (1935–1955)

Despite the pas­sage of Social Secu­rity, con­ser­v­a­tives still believed that they could undo the new pro­gram. In the 1936 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Repub­li­can can­di­date Alf Lan­don, gov­er­nor of Kansas, described Social Secu­rity as “a fraud on the work­ing­man” and “a cru­el hoax.”

“The Repub­li­can par­ty will have noth­ing to do with any plan that involves pry­ing into the per­sonal records of 26 mil­lion peo­ple,” Lan­don said in one address. The Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee sent out mail­ers cam­paign­ing against it.

But FDR trounced Lan­don, and the Roo­sevelt admin­is­tra­tion, his suc­ces­sor Tru­man, and Democ­rats in Con­gress start­ed work­ing on ways to expand the pro­gram toward its goal of uni­ver­sal cov­er­age. When the dis­abil­ity pro­gram was up for debate in 1949, Repub­li­cans crit­i­cized it. They also peti­tioned against an increase in ben­e­fits, argu­ing that Social Secu­rity was intend­ed to pro­vide only a income floor for old­er Amer­i­cans.

Some still pushed for the pro­gram to be repealed entire­ly. “The old-age and sur­vivors insur­ance pro­gram is a gross­ly unsound and inef­fec­tive tool for the social-secu­ri­ty pur­poses it attempts to accom­plish,” Rep. Carl Cur­tis (R‑NE) said when the 1949 amend­ments were being debat­ed. He lob­bied to replace it with a pro­gram with much small­er ben­e­fits.

But by 1955, with the notable assis­tance of Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Dwight Eisen­hower, who called those who want­ed to abol­ish Social Secu­rity “stu­pid,” the pro­gram as it exists today — with near-uni­ver­sal cov­er­age, bet­ter ben­e­fits and a dis­abil­ity com­po­nent — was effec­tively in place.

THE REAGAN REFORMS (1980s)

As Social Secu­rity cement­ed itself as a fix­ture of the Amer­i­can safe­ty net, Repub­li­cans faced some­thing of a cri­sis about how to dis­cuss the pro­gram. As late as 1962, con­ser­v­a­tives like Ronald Rea­gan were say­ing that the pro­gram had put the Unit­ed States “down the road in the image of the labor Social­ist Par­ty of Eng­land.”

The debate large­ly sub­sided with the pro­gram sol­vent and oth­er issues dom­i­nat­ing the polit­i­cal dis­course for the next two decades. But, coin­ci­den­tally, as Rea­gan took the White House, demo­graphic trends were putting a squeeze on the pro­gram. Rea­gan appoint­ed Rep. David Stock­man (R‑MI), who had once called Social Secu­rity “clos­et social­ism,” to over­see his bud­get office.

Pub­licly, Rea­gan warned that the pro­gram was “tee­ter­ing on the edge of bank­ruptcy,” but Stockman’s pri­vate remarks sug­gest that the admin­is­tra­tion saw the cri­sis as an oppor­tu­nity for cuts. The White House pushed through an elim­i­na­tion of a “frozen” min­i­mum ben­e­fit and stu­dent ben­e­fits with­out much Demo­c­ra­tic sup­port in 1981.

The cri­sis “will per­mit the politi­cians to make it look like they’re doing some­thing for the ben­e­fi­ciary pop­u­la­tion,” Stock­man said, “when they are doing some­thing to it which they nor­mally wouldn’t have the courage to under­take.”

...

PREPPING FOR NEXT BATTLE (1980s-2000)

Behind the scenes, though, con­ser­v­a­tive thinkers were dis­mayed that the Rea­gan White House had come nowhere close to dis­man­tling the pro­gram as had once been hoped. Wonks at the con­ser­v­a­tive Her­itage Foun­da­tion warned that they must work to “pre­pare the polit­i­cal ground so that the fias­co of the last 18 months is not repeat­ed” and they could achieve the “rad­i­cal reform of Social Secu­ri­ty.”

Pri­va­ti­za­tion — called “indi­vid­ual accounts,” which had peo­ple invest­ing their mon­ey, elim­i­nat­ing the base ben­e­fit that Social Secu­rity had been con­ceived as — was the goal. They con­sid­ered young peo­ple “the most obvi­ous con­stituency for the pri­vate alter­na­tive” and pon­dered ways “to detach, or at least neu­tral­ize” the old­er Amer­i­cans who were or would soon be ben­e­fit­ting from the pro­gram in its cur­rent form.

Again, how­ever, Repub­li­cans seemed to rec­og­nize the polit­i­cal real­i­ties that the last few decades had solid­i­fied and what that required of their pub­lic rhetoric.

...

BUSH’S FAILED PRIVATIZATION PLAN (2000–2005)

Con­ser­v­a­tives final­ly made their play for pri­va­tiz­ing Social Secu­rity dur­ing the sec­ond Bush admin­is­tra­tion.

George W. Bush told con­ser­v­a­tives in the midst of the 2000 cam­paign that Repub­li­cans “have to find a way to allow peo­ple to invest a per­cent­age of their pay­roll tax in the cap­i­tal mar­kets” — a new incar­na­tion of the indi­vid­ual accounts or pri­va­ti­za­tion con­cept.

But the GOP was get­ting sharp­er with its rhetoric. The lib­er­tar­ian Cato Insti­tute renamed its exist­ing Project on Social Secu­rity Pri­va­ti­za­tion to the Project on Social Secu­rity Choice in 2002. The over­all effect of the Bush-era pro­pos­als was the same, turn­ing a guar­an­teed ben­e­fit into some­thing else entire­ly, but they had fig­ured out what they thought were bet­ter ways to talk about it.

“BANISH PRIVATIZATION FROM YOUR LEXICON,” read a memo that Repub­li­can poll­ster Frank Luntz gave Bush dur­ing the 2004 cam­paign. But while Bush made Social Secu­rity a top pri­or­ity at the onset of his sec­ond term and under­took a nation­al tour to dis­cuss the issue, those who sup­port the tra­di­tional pro­gram ral­lied against it.

The effort — which TPM cov­ered exten­sively; long-time read­ers might recall [47] the Faint­hearted Fac­tion — proved to be a deba­cle for Bush. For­mal leg­is­la­tion nev­er even got a full vote in Con­gress, and in 2006, Democ­rats took con­trol of both cham­bers. Repub­li­cans appeared to be so scarred by the episode that the notion of major changes to Social Secu­rity was rarely broached in the fol­low­ing years.

But now, near­ly a decade lat­er, con­ser­v­a­tives think they have anoth­er shot.

5. The pro­gram con­cludes with review of the 1934 coup attempt [15] by pow­er­ful U.S. finan­cial and indus­tri­al inter­ests.

Like Snow­den and the GOP-con­trolled 114th Con­gress, the 1934 plot­ters [16] want­ed to restore the gold stan­dard [17] and repu­di­ate Roo­sevelt’s social agen­da [18], espe­cial­ly Social Secu­ri­ty.

“Mag­i­cally the world changed after the New Deal, and old peo­ple became made of glass.”–Edward Snow­den (“the peach fuzz fas­cist”) in 2009.